the Original Come Dancing series from the 70s and 80s - How Does IT Compare to Strictly Come Dancing?
By Mark Nobes, chief editor
With the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing getting underway on BBC1, I thought I'd take a look back at the original Come Dancing series, which aired from 1950 to 1998, and see how it compares to the newer series.
The show looked so very different back then (as did most things in life), featuring more traditional styles of ballroom dancing and music, and the contestants were not celebrities, but dancers from different regions of the UK. The fashion was also very different, with puffball tutus and ruffle shirts popular in the 70s, and tighter, more revealing outfits with splashes of neon in the 80s.
Come Dancing was created by the founder of the controversial Miss World beauty pageant, Eric Morley. The first show was broadcast on 29th September 1950 from regional ballroom studios, although only the wealthy had a TV back then, of course. It featured the final of the British Formation Dancing Trophy,
From 1950 to 1964, the programme aired on alternate weeks with Television Dancing Club. At its peak, it attracted an audience of around 10 million viewers in the 1960s and 70.
However, during the 1980s, the audience numbers started to dwindle, and there was no series in 1982 or 1987, The very last series aired in 1995. There were two International Come Dancing Specials in 1996 and 1998, and a final one-off 50th Anniversary Edition aired on 29th September 1998. A total of 400 episodes were shown in total.
Although, as I have already mentioned, the contestants were members of the public, many well-known celebrities presented the show over the years. In 1988 and 1989, it was Angela Rippon, and you can see her presenting in the video at the top of this page. I also remember the professional ballroom dancer Bobbie Irvine (who's partner was Bill) often commenting on the dancers in some of the performances in the 80s.
In this video clip from a 1973 episode of Come Dancing, the lady is wearing a ginormous, multi-layered, pink puffball tutu, which reminds me of the toilet roll doll covers my nan used to have back then! Such dresses were worn quite often in the original series.
Dressed in a ruffle shirt with bow tie, Terry Wogan presented Come Dancing with the beautiful Jenny McAdam (a former Miss England), starting in 1972. He also co-hosted with Isla St. Clair, who went on to co-host The Generation game with Larry Grayson, starting in 1978. Other celebrity presenters included Michael Aspel, David Jacobs, Judith Chalmers and Peter Murray.
Rosemarie Ford, who was the co-host of The Generation Game (alongside Bruce Forsyth) for the 1990 to 1994 series, also hosted International Come Dancing in the 90s, on which she also sang with the orchestra.
Strictly Come Dancing
So how does the original Come Dancing series compare with Strictly Come Dancing?
In 2004, the series was brought right up-to-date and rebooted with the new title of Strictly Come Dancing. It was hosted by Bruce Forysth until 2013. Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman took hold of the reins after this. The series attracted a new, younger audience with a wider variety of dance styles, music, and celebrity dancers.
In the first episode of the 2022 series, which aired on 24th September, the gay TV and radio presenter Richie Anderson, and professional dancer Giovanni Pernice, danced a cha-cha to "I'm Your Man" by Wham!, wearing Choose Dance T-shirts, which were, of course, based on the original Choose Life T-shirt design from the 80s.
The newer series definitely caters for a wider audience, and also now features gay dance couples, something that would have been unthinkable back in the 80s. While the original series had a certain charm, in all honesty, it was in desperate need of an update even back in the 80s, and it was definitely unappealing to a cool teenager like myself back then - I say "cool", I was probably about as cool as a camel's anus, but I thought I was cool, at least!
Although I don't know who half of the celebrities are these days, I do much prefer the newer series, which manages to retain many of the traditional dance styles, but also adds many new elements, and the pop music is a very welcome addition, although traditionalists may disagree. And who doesn't enjoy the harsh but camp criticism from Craig Revel-Horwood, and his strict appliance of the rules!
Be sure to watch this hilarious clip of Ann Widdecombe Vs the judges from 2010.